This morning's sunrise was distinct. As I peered out the kitchen window watching my partner make his way through the long row of vines, a fog bank settled over the tops of the grapes, creating a surreal scene. I could see his white cap bobbing up 'n down among the rows, taking samples of the bunches, fog giving him an eerie, mystical quality as he disappeared from sight. Grabbing my camera to capture the view, I dashed outside and noticed the change in the air--the smell and feel, it's harvest time.
There's a smell when a field is ready to be harvested. The air is crisp in the early morning, often laden with moisture, the berries glisten as the sun rises over the field, and the earth smells sweet 'n ripe, heavy. The grapes are beautiful this year--big, full, pleasantly shaped, no sunburn, no blothces, none are misshapen--each one nearly perfect.
As the sun peaks over the hills, warming the air, the fog lifts and the white hat returns with a bag of randomly selected berries. His clothes are sticky from the samples grapes that he's picked and with a smile he says, "They're ready." And now, the real work begins.
In Lodi, Chardonnay grapes are the queen of whites. The variety is California's most widely planted wine grape, with an estimated 93,000 acres reported in 2017. For our Serendipity Blanc de Blanc, Chardonnay is the key to this exceptional sparkling wine. During the last several weeks, we've made the rounds through the vineyard, randomly sampling the grapes and checking for the ideal level of acidity and sugar ripeness. Sparkling wine grapes must be picked earlier as they need a higher level of acidity and less sugar, so this morning at the perfect 18 Brix, we're ready to go.
Tonight at midnight, we'll begin the picking process--removing those beautiful bunches of grapes and transporting them to the winery where the grapes will be pressed, not crushed, to limit the contact between skin and juice. A pneumatic press, which has a large, plastic balloon will gradually inflate and gently break the grape skins. Juice will slowly drain into a pan beneath the press. The press turns, inflates again and again, ultimately leaving a pile of skins and seeds. This Chardonnay juice will retain the pure, Chardonnay characteristics, allowing our winemakers to create an exceptional wine--a wine beffiting the name, Serendipity. Yes, tonight's going to be exciting!
When you live in the middle of a vineyard, you mark each season with milestones that are directly connected with your livelihood--grapes. We're excited because veraison [pronounced "verr-ray-zohn"] has hit the majority of the varietals planted in 'n around our home. Simply put, veraison is the onset of ripening of those delicious berries, and signals that we're headed towards harvest. It represents the transition from berry growth on the vine to bery ripening.
For viticulturalists, it means that the vine has shifted its focus from energy creation [through photosynthesis] to energy consumption, directing the vine into making those baby grapes sweet. Before veraison occurs, the wine grapes are small, hard, highly acidic, and green-colored due to the level of chlorophyll. As the chlorophyll is replaced by anthocyanins [changing the berry color from vibrant green to luscious red in red varietals], polyphenols develop to protect the berries from sun, wine and other stresses that generally occur in the vineyard prior to harvest.
During this period in the growth cycle, grapes begin to dramatically increase in size and the sugar level [glucose and fructose, which is measured in Brix] rises. Conversely, the acid level begins to fall, and continues to do so as the sugar level rises until the grapes are deemed to be perfectly balanced and ready for harvest. And while red grapes begin to change color, white grapes transform into a lovely golden shade of yellow, or even become somewhat translucent.
Once veraison occurs, grapes are usually harvested within 40-70 days, depending upon the style of the wine to be produced and the grape varietal. It's as if a switch is flipped in each grapevine, and the countdown to harvest begins. It's an exciting time for both growers and wineries.
Vineyard owners will focus their growing effort on either removing bunches in order to modify vine balance and ensure that the remaining bunches receive the needed nutrients and sugars from the roots. Or, the farmer may thin and/or remove leaves from the vine in order to improve the amount of sunlight and airflow that the bunches receive.
As you drive around the vineyards in and around Lodi, take notice of the change in the color of the vines as our beautiful grapes begin to darken [or glow]. Our hot sunny days mean that the grapes are enjoying the heat and developing those delicious, juicy berries--just ripe for the picking!
Once the "sparkling" wine has undergone secondary fermentation and the winemaker determines that it is appropriately balanced, it's time to begin the preparatory process of lees removal. Lees are the deposits of residual yeast, or sediment left inside the length of the bottle. In order to displace the sediment and move it into the neck of the bottle, the bottles must undergo a process known as riddling. During this stage, the bottles are placed inside metal cages, These cages are then attached to the arms of a riddling rack.
The process of riddling proceeds by carefully orchestrated rotations of the bottle, right and left, a quarter of a turn, an eighth of a turn or a sixteenth of a turn. The angle of the bottle is altered to point the bottle neck down, allowing the sediment to settle into the bidule [small hollow cap] inserted into the top of each bottle. The riddling process takes approximately 10 to 14 days, and is critical for obtaining a perfectly clear wine.
Once the process is complete and the sparkling wine clear, the lees is removed through disgorging. Bottles are placed onto the disgorging line, neck down, and as the neck of the bottle moves upward, the crown cap is removed. Under pressure, the accumulated sediment is forced out of the top of the bottle. If the bottle is turned upwards too soon, the sediment will mix back into the wine and make the wine cloudy, necessitating that the bottle be placed back into one of the cages and riddled again. If the bottle is not angled correctly, a significant amount of wine will be lost.
Immediately after disgorging, but before the cord is inserted, the liquid level is topped with a mixure of sugar and wine, known as dosage. The winemaker determines this mixture, and each dosage is tailored to the specific vintage. Once the dosage is added, the cork is inserted, followed by the wire cage and, a foil hood. Your méthode champenoise sparkling wine is ready for you to chill, pour, share and enjoy. Stop by the cellar door and sample our Serendipity sparkling wine--crisp, clear and beautiful.
Check out the disgorging link: https://www.facebook.com/NostraVitaWinery/videos/321768625399944/
Méthode champenoise sparkling wine is created utilizing the French style Champagne process. While only sparkling wine made in the Champagne region of France can be called Champagne, the technique utilized to add those beautiful bubbles to otherwise "still" wine is referred to as méthode [me-toad] champenoise [chomp-en-wawz].
We start out with Chardonnay grapes harvested from our vineyard in the rolling Clements hills. The grapes are harvested early, usually by the end of July, beginning of August, when the sugar level in the grapes [referred to as Brix] is low, generally at 18 brix [in comparison with the level of 24 brix for a traditional Chardonnay still wine]. We vintage date our blanc de blanc [white of whites, meaning Champagne made from white grapes], using only Chardonnay grapes from that specific year.
After the primary fermentation [when the grapes are crushed, drained and cold fermented], its time for our "still" wine to go into its permanent home--the bottle. When the wine is finished and deemed ready, a mixture of sugar and yeast is made [called tirage] and added to the "still" wine. The tirage is transferred to the bottling line, pumped into a bottle, and a small hollow cap [called a bidule] is inserted into the top of each bottle. As the bottle travels down the line, a crown cap [bottle cap] is placed on top to seal the bottle and allow the secondary fermentation process to begin. Each bottle is removed from the line and placed, by hand, horizontally into a cage, with roughly 500 bottles per cage. These cages are then wheeled into a darkened, temperature-controlled room.
And this is where the magic begins. The yeast in the bottle slowly converts the sugar into alcohol and carbon dioxide. Since the bottle is capped, the carbon dioxide has nowhere to go and stays inside the bottle in the form of those teeny, tiny bubbles. This doesn't happen overnight; in fact, it takes months, at least 18-24 months. Our 2014 Serendipity Blanc de Blanc Sparkling Wine spent four years in the bottle, and the result is nothing short of a taste of heaven for your mouth.
Serendipity has received multiple awards. Its fresh acidity is balanced with a smooth body, crisp fruit finish, and silky yeast character. Pour it in one of your favorite sparkling wine glasses and then, stop, take a whiff and watch those glorious bubbles. Those bubbles signify the exceptional quality of this product, and honestly, it never fails to deliver in both flavor and aroma.
Click on the link below and watch as we put our 2018 Serendipity into the bottle so that it, too, can begin its' slumber and ultimate transformation into a future award winning Champagne style sparkling wine. *Shhh... the babies are sleeping. But they're definitely worth the wait!
We're farmers, grape farmers, or viticulturists. A fancy name for folks who grow grapes. We grew up in and around vineyards, as did our children. In fact, not unlike our own parents, we planted our vineyard, built our home in the center of it, and raised our family in the middle of dust, dirt, lovely green vines, and beautiful bunches of green and ripe purple grapes. And if you ask a farmer what's important, they'll each have their own unique list, but overall, it's sunshine and water. We follow the sun.
Right now, it's gorgeous outside. C'mon admit it, you love it too! Everything is new. Everything is fresh. The hills around the vineyard are bright green and the grass undulates when the wind blows. It's that fresh, new green. The green that's as close to emerald as it gets around here. Flowers are blooming everywhere: the fields, gardens, along the roadsides and even in the ditches. Bees are working overtime, and the world has come alive with brilliant shades of green, yellow, red, pink, white, purple, even blue. It's truly a magical time in the San Joaquin Valley.
So, when it came time to select our logo and pick something that was meaningful for our family and linked to both grapes and wine, the sun rose to the top of our list. As for the maze, well, each member of our family has meandered, turned, stalled, backed up and hit a dead-end on more than one occasion. While we each have had specific goals, plans and dreams, it hasn't always been a straight shot to the finish line.
For my husband and I, we had specific career goals, followed the rules, played the game well, at least we thought that we did. But when goals and career paths didn't materialize or we faltered, we fell, flat. I'd like to say that we bounced back immediately, but we didn't. We shook our fists, lamented our distress, licked our wounds and then, we discovered a new path, a new road, a new direction. And so, it is with our maze--a symbol of strength and resiliency. A new journey.
Most of us falter or fall at some point in out lives, so if you take a moment and ponder the twists, turns and dead-ends of your life path, I think that you can agree, a maze makes sense. We're all striving to get from Point A to Point B, but sometimes, it just takes a bit longer, and in the end, it really is all about the journey. From my vantage point, it's been quite a lovely, meandering walk through life.
We'd love to hear your story about your own journey. Stop by and visit us at our cellar door on Turner Road. We'll pour the wine, and you tell us about your life's maze--in the sun.
Designing a label is a lot like giving birth. There’s a great deal of energy, effort and even a few tears that go into the process. You’ve got one chance to make an impression on the consumer and there are thousands of labels out there, all waiting to be selected. Each one tells its own story, each one is the culmination of a great deal of time and thought, and each one is vying for your attention, so the pressure is on to make yours standout, make it unique.
Easy, right? Not so much, in fact, it’s really difficult, and the process can be tedious. Think you’ve hit on the right shape? Color? Logo? Font? Placement? Think again. Run your design by half a dozen people and you’ll quickly discover that your “fantastic” design, well, it isn’t. In fact, nothing about the label is a hit, so it’s back to the drawing board, literally. And it can take months, not days or weeks.
I’m sure that there are creative folks out there that hit it on the first try, but for most of us, it’s a slow process. So, by the time you’re done, and your ‘baby’ is ready to head off to the printer, you’re mentally exhausted and personally, not even sure that you like it anymore. But then, that lovely label comes back on a thick spool and all of a sudden… WOW!
Put that label on a bottle and, well, it’s true love. I love our label. I love our label on our bottle. I love placing the bottle on a shelf in the light and admiring the colors and how the light shines through the bottle, illuminating the design. I love our new ‘baby!’
So, please join me in celebrating our newest addition… Serendipity Sparkling Wine, created in the Méthode Champenoise style. It wasn’t an easy process. It didn’t go quickly, but the result, I think you’ll agree, was worth the wait!
Nostra Vita Family Winery is the culmination of a lifelong dream of my husband, Robert. He’s been making wine all of his life, literally. He grew up in a winery, playing underneath his mother’s desk, following his uncles around as they checked the tanks, and his sitting on his father’s lap on the tractor as they built ditches in the field for irrigation. And we both grew up in and around vineyards, as our fathers grew grapes and took great pride in cultivating their individual pieces of fertile sandy soil.
There is a sense of responsibility and freedom that comes with farming the soil. You grow up understanding that you owe your livelihood to that land, and with that brings an obligation to nurture and care for it. You mark your life by the seasons, because changes in the weather mark the passage of time, and with each season there are tasks that must be performed in order to keep that vineyard healthy and productive. But there is that freedom to meander and wander about on that land, getting lost in the wonder of watching a litter of baby bunnies playing in the field, a flock of wild turkeys dining on insects, or even a pack of juvenile coyotes wrestling on our back lawn. It’s the freedom to just sit, watch and marvel at what nature creates.
Enter the next generation, our children. We wanted for our children what we’d both had—an opportunity to live on a piece of land in the country, so when they were very young, we stretched and scraped together the funds to purchase our own piece of land in the rolling Clements hills. Then we planted our vineyard and raised our children in the center of those vines. Yes, we actually built our home in the center of our vineyard, and the photo that you see on our Home page is a view from my kitchen window. Nice, huh.
So, what’s with the name? Because we’ve all grown up in and around vineyards and wine has been a natural outcome of producing all those beautiful grapes, when it came time to select a name for our family’s company, Nostra Vita was appropriate. Robert is of Italian descent, making our children part Italian, and since our lives have always been seasoned with Italian sayings, words and terms, it wasn’t a stretch for our son to select an Italian name. Nostra Vita means “our life” in Italian, and grapes, wine production, farming, eating, drinking wine, and family are all intertwined.How do you pronounce it? It’s actually easier than you think. First word, Nostra: Nō Straw. Second word, Vita: Vēē Tăh. Nostra Vita: Nō Straw Vēē Tăh.
Because we understand that each year is unique, producing characteristics in the grapes at harvest that will shape the essence of a handcrafted wine, we celebrate that exclusivity. Wine isn’t simply a beverage, it truly is a sensory experience meant to be shared with family and friends. We invite you to join us as we discover each vintage and make “our life” a part of yours!
While everyone else is just beginning to awaken from their winter slumber, we’ve been hard at it getting ready for the new year, literally. Lodi vineyards are in full swing and you can easily begin to see the difference, particularly when one vineyard is pruned and the one next door, isn’t. Each year, pruning crews must come through and remove the previous year’s fruiting canes or spurs.
Dormant pruning is a critical component of the grape production cycle, protecting the vines’ health and ensuring a good crop. Grape growers generally prune their vines with the intent to achieve a balance between fruit production and adequate shoot growth. Too many shoots, and you can wind up with a crowded canopy, providing too much shade and/or too many grapes, making it difficult for the grapes to ripen in time for harvest. Too few, and you wind up with little or no fruit, lowering the yield and quality.
Because the best fruit is only produced on new shoots, healthy new canes must be “pushed” by the vine every year, and this means that growers must prune annually. Depending upon the variety of grape and the winegrowing region, growers often employ a pruning formula, which can vary based upon the individual vineyard. Believe it or not, there can be significant variances in soil type, temperature and watering conditions, even between vineyards that sit adjacent to one another.
Freshly cut canes litter the ground underneath these newly pruned vines. This time of year, vines are especially susceptible to infection as water and sap drips from the open wounds in the wood.
Beginning in January and running through the end of February, California vineyards are filled with the sounds of hand tools lopping off old and dead spurs. Music carries through the fog in the early morning and conversations blend as the morning sun warms the air and the day progresses. Sleeping vineyards don a manicured look as last year’s canes are shed, and the vines are readied for a new growing season.
If you drive through the valley, you’ll see countless men and women working in the vineyards, making their way up and down the rows, skillful caretakers pruning each vine. It’s the official first step towards our ultimate goal, a bountiful harvest, and it’s exciting to watch, knowing that we’ve begun yet another season.
As February approaches, growers watch the weather, monitor their fields and push to get their vineyards pruned. In the meantime, if you have the opportunity, take a drive in and around the area. Slow down and notice the activity in the local vineyards. There’s a unique life force that drives all of agriculture and here in Lodi, we’re fortunate to be a part of that energy.
The sparkling wine category holds a special place in the hearts of both winemakers and drinkers alike. For some it’s the “pop” of the cork that signals a celebration at hand, while for others, it’s the fizz or bubbles that float to the roof of your mouth, signaling the zesty acidity that soon follows. As for the winemakers, they understand that if they’ve done their job well, those bubbles will take all of the glory. But for our family, sparkling wine has and always will hold a special place in all of our lives.
Having been in and around the wine industry since his youth, Robert Indelicato understood what it took to create a good glass of wine. And while you may think that “good wine” is simply an objective term, in Robert’s viewpoint, a good wine represents all of the best qualities of that specific varietal in a style that showcases the region of origin. Over the years, he has worked diligently to perfect his craft and create high quality examples from each region.
Both Robert and Leslie grew up in and around the great Central Valley and often celebrated their favorite occasions with a glass of California’s sparkling wine. Within the past decade, they noticed that the flavor was often lackluster, the quality was ailing, and the consistency was virtually nonexistent.
Ever the instigator, Leslie challenged her husband to create a high quality, consistently superb sparkling wine. With his professional reputation on the line, Robert delved into the méthode champenoise process to produce the highest quality sparkling wine.
What came to be was nothing short of serendipitous. The result was a sparkling wine that one can enjoy on every occasion, or even on no particular occasion. Its fresh acidity balanced with a smooth body, crisp fruit and silky yeast character clearly demonstrates that a quality sparkling wine does exist and that it can be produced in Lodi.
What started out as a friendly wager has become the lifeblood of our family business. Discovered by chance, Serendipity Sparkling Wine has forever changed our lives and given us yet another reason to raise a glass high and to be thankful for all of life’s serendipitous moments. May you find your serendipity and never look back.